Vail mayor sees ‘alarming’ Mexico rhetoric
VAIL — Vail mayor Dave Chapin is alarmed by the ongoing anti-Mexico rhetoric in the U.S. presidential campaign aimed at a nation that accounts for 10 percent of the visits to America’s most popular ski resort.
“It’s almost a threat, and we’re not a threatening nation; we’re a welcoming nation,” Chapin said in a phone interview. “So rhetoric like what we’ve heard in these political campaigns is extremely alarming and defeatist to our mission as a country and as world leaders. I think that we’re talking about one person here (Trump), and let’s see where we are after Nov. 8.”
Chapin said 15 percent of Vail’s economy is based on international tourism, with 10 percent of those guests originating in Mexico, and Vail recently re-upped its sister-city relationship with the artist and resort community of San Miguel de Allende, 170 miles northwest of Mexico City.
“Ten percent, when you’re talking about the numbers that the town of Vail and the ski mountain does — summer or winter — that’s a big chunk,” Chapin said. “That’s a lot of business. And a clientele that is clearly coming from a higher-end economic status.”
150,000 Mexican skier days
Vail is the busiest ski area in the country, with 1.6 million skier days a season — meaning more than 150,000 of them are Mexican skier days. The town of Vail and Vail Resorts both actively market the Vail Valley in Mexico City, and Mexican families have been buying real estate in Vail since the 1960s.
In a 2009 Vail Daily article, it was estimated that nearly 40 percent of the private real estate in Vail was owned by Mexican nationals, one of whom — a software executive in Mexico — called Vail “the Rolls-Royce of skiing.”
Mexico is also the second largest trading partner for Colorado as whole, importing nearly $1 billion in goods a year and accounting for more than 105,000 Colorado jobs, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Visits to Colorado from Mexico have surged from 104,178 in 2009 to 175,301 last year, according to Tourism Economics. Chapin is worried those numbers could all start dropping if Trump continues his talk of mass deportations and making Mexico pay for a border wall.
“There will probably have to be some damage control, for lack of a better word, and clearly we have some immigration issues,” Chapin said, acknowledging the need for immigration reform. “I don’t know the solutions, but it’s time for action. It’s time to give everybody a fair chance.”
Chapin said any reform must take into account Vail’s dependence on an immigrant workforce from Mexico — a workforce feeling increasingly threatened by Trump’s rhetoric.
“We need this segment of our workforce to be here,” Chapin said. “Otherwise, we’re done. If we can’t provide services for our guests, and we’re struggling now, and if it requires an immigrant workforce to achieve that, then let’s deal with the reality of that.”
Members of working families in the Vail Valley are concerned about being broken up, Chapin said. “Here you are trying to raise your family and provide for your family, not knowing if six months from now, that could be ripped apart. It is alarming. It’s concerning.”
Besides of its focus on halting illegal immigration, the Trump campaign is also targeting legal immigration.
A spokeswoman for the Trump campaign in Colorado declined to comment on the Republican’s Mexico stance as its relates to Vail, instead referring to Trump’s official position on immigration reform posted on his campaign website, which states: “Real immigration reform puts the needs of working people first — not wealthy globetrotting donors. We are the only country in the world whose immigration system puts the needs of other nations ahead of our own. That must change.”
Last week’s visit
Despite his visit to Mexico City last week to meet with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, Trump is not backing down on his promise to build a 2,000-mile-long border wall and make Mexico pay for it. In a speech in Arizona on Wednesday, he clarified but continued the calls for mass deportations that helped land him a GOP primary win.
“The damage of Trump’s words go well beyond the families he directly offends,” said U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat who represents the Vail Valley in Congress. “It hurts business, it hurts jobs. He’s proposed withdrawing from NAFTA, the (World Trade Organization). It would cause an enormous image problem in the Latin American world and in Mexico, and of course we’d see a major decline in tourism from those areas.”
Polis added he thinks there has been absolutely no softening of Trump’s hardline anti-immigrant, anti-Mexico rhetoric in recent days: “Mass deportations, no path to citizenship, and that’s been consistent across his entire campaign. That’s in fact been the major element of his campaign, as well as a large wall separating America from Mexico.”
But Floyd Trujillo, a Denver-area businessman helping to spearhead Hispanics for Trump in Colorado, said that Trump’s role as a maverick and his willingness to speak his mind make him the ideal GOP candidate. Trujillo thinks Trump will continue to refine his immigration policy.
“Donald Trump, not being a polished politician — and again, I support him; we all stumble — but if you ask about how he’s going to change things, I’ll make a bet with you that you’ll be surprised by what he comes out with on his immigration policy,” Trujillo said.
Trujillo added that areas reliant on legal Mexican tourism and real estate purchases like Vail have nothing to worry about, but illegal immigration to provide cheap labor needs to stop.
“The problem you have is the political machine on both sides,” Trujillo said. “The Democrats want one thing and one thing only, cheap labor. On the other side what you have is a (Republican) party that is supported by the (U.S.) Chamber of Commerce that’s looking for cheap labor. Neither side cares about you or I or this country when it comes to the immigration issue.”
However, a spokeswoman for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton disagrees with Trujillo about the potential damage to Vail’s tourism connection to Mexico.
“There are consequences to his rhetoric,” Hillary for Colorado state director Emmy Ruiz said during a recent visit in Vail. “If I’m a Mexican tourist, and I’m looking at where to spend my money and I can go to the Swiss Alps or I can go to Vail, and one country is sending a message that Mexicans are all rapists and illegal immigrants and (Mexico) is on the hook for the problems, I can’t think how a parent would choose to bring their kids into this environment.”
State Sen. Ray Scott, a Grand Junction Republican who’s the Western Colorado field coordinator for the Trump-Pence campaign, said Trump’s message is resonating with working-class Coloradans on the Western Slope because of his business acumen and his focus on bringing back good-paying jobs for American citizens.
“That’s where he’s making such a different impact is he’s letting people know exactly what they need to hear, which I think most folks already know that all along,” Scott said. “It’s just something that’s now kind of, ‘Hey, this guy’s different. He understands I need my job, what it means to make a payroll.’ They’re getting all of that.”
David O. Williams is a longtime freelance writer based in the Vail Valley. He co-owns and edits RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.